Medieval Bulgaria

IVANOVO'S MEDIEVAL FACES

Churches and monasteries hewn into rocks at often precipitous heights were a clever solution that Christians from the Balkans and the Middle East employed for centuries to achieve a crucial goal: the creation of abodes far from the crowds in places where conventional buildings would be hard to construct. Since the dawn of religion they have enlarged existing caves into rooms that resembled church interiors, complete with naves, altars and apses, and murals. They also lived in caves, in cells scattered around these churches, often forming large compounds.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

MADARA HORSEMAN ENIGMA

Of all UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bulgaria, Madara Horseman is most difficult to see.

This is not because Europe's only medieval open-air relief is in an isolated spot that is hard to reach. The Madara Horseman is a short and easy drive from the Hemus motorway, near Shumen. Just beneath the 100 metre high rock where it is carved, there is a new visitor's centre and a viewing platform.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S BEST ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

Bulgaria has the greatest number of archaeological sites in Europe after Greece and Italy. Every tour guide worth their badge has proclaimed this at least once to Bulgarian and foreign tourists. The adage is a compelling image of the country, but it is misleading. The great majority of Bulgaria's archaeological sites are interesting to archaeologists only and/or are in a condition that is hardly inspirational or Instagram-friendly: overgrown, looted by treasure hunters, devoid of tourist infrastructure and even signage.

Comments: 1

Read more Add new comment

VELIKO TARNOVO DELIGHTS

Perched on a twisty meander of the Yantra River, where the hills of the Danube Plain meet the northern slopes of the Stara Planina, Veliko Tarnovo has unparalleled topography in Bulgaria, and possibly the Balkans. Traditional 19th century houses cling above the steep river bends, connected by alleys and steps that defy both gravity and everyday convenience – but living in Tarnovo has never been about convenience.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

CRACKING MEDIEVAL SMILE

A pair of dark, tender eyes glow in a delicate face crowned with a costly headdress decorated with pearls. The lady's lips are slightly curved, as if she is smiling at a private joke, or perhaps a secret she holds? The woman herself is an enigma. We know that the elegant lady painted on the walls of the Boyana Church was called Desislava and that she was the wife of Kaloyan, the handsome lord of 13th century Sofia painted next to her. But why is Desislava smiling?

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

WHY IS NESEBAR A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE?

If you visit Nesebar in high season, it will be easy to doubt the wisdom of UNESCO's 1983 decision to inscribe this town on the Black Sea coast into its World Heritage list. The crowds of holidaymakers on day trips from the overdeveloped resorts around, the stalls selling trinkets and souvenirs, the chalga music booming from overpriced, "traditional" restaurants are so overwhelming you cannot enjoy – or even notice – the beautiful medieval churches and the old wooden houses that are the reason all of these people and businesses are here.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

(RE)BUILDING BULGARIA'S PAST

When Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, the expectation was that membership would bring the struggling former Communist country closer to the more developed economies in Europe. Amazingly, one of the first things Bulgarians started spending EU money on was not on much needed infrastructure such as new roads, industries and businesses, or on modernising the education and healthcare systems. Instead, Bulgarian municipalities across the nation rushed to use EU funding to build... ruins.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S FIRST CAPITALS

If power and the economy were gravity, the gravitational centre of modern Bulgaria would be Sofia, where the population and the important agencies of the state, economy and culture are located. If we go back to the Middle Ages, when Bulgaria was still young, the country's centre of gravity would be elsewhere – in the northeast, close to the city of Shumen. There, the remains of Bulgaria's first capitals, Pliska and Preslav, still survive – next to an astonishing piece of medieval art, the Madara Horseman.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S TOP 10 FORTS

Castle-wise, Bulgaria is nothing to compare with Scotland – and many other European countries. There is little reminiscent of Transylvania's menacing fortifications, Bavaria's fairy tale confections, or the Loire Valley's romantic châteaux. Fortresses were built in Bulgaria from Antiquity to the 19th century and, although many were lost in war-time destruction and postwar turbulence, the country still has several sites that combine stunning scenery with relatively well-preserved fortifications.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

RHODOPE'S CITY OF GODS

Deep in the heart of the Rhodope, Perperikon is an ancient town that over the course of millennia perched, Machu Picchu-like, atop a rocky hill. Commanding stupendous views of the valleys below, it covers over 1,200 acres – supposedly the largest megalithic site in the Balkans.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S MANY CAPITALS

Over the centuries after Bulgarians settled in the Balkans, they moved capital more than once – sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for strategy, sometimes out of despair. Some of these places became the beating heart of a state commanding vast territories. Others were the seats of ambitious lords trying to carve their own place out of a contested political map. Here is a list of the most important and interesting official and alternative Bulgarian capitals, in chronological order. They cover, in broad strokes, some 13 centuries of Bulgarian history.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

MADARA HORSEMAN

Bulgaria as a country, if not a state, has been around for a while. Established in 681, it was an offshoot of the few viable Barbarian lands and federations that popped up in Europe, wreaked havoc and disintegrated in the tumultuous times between the end of Antiquity and the start of the Middle Ages. In the centuries that followed, Bulgaria experienced both periods of triumph and moments of despair, and it ceased to exist as a political entity for 700 years under Byzantine and Ottoman domination.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

WHO WERE CYRIL AND METHODIUS?

The image of two men, one young and sporting a dark beard and the other older and white-bearded, with books and parchments in their hands, are to be found all over Bulgaria. There are countless statues and posters, church murals and icons. Their images multiply on 24 May, when long processions of students crowd the central streets of every city carrying posters, usually decorated with flowers.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

FORTIFIED BULGARIA, PART 1

Why there are no old forts and fortresses in Bulgaria on the scale of Romania, Greece, Italy or the Western Balkans is a controversial issue. The sort of answers you will be getting will depend on who does the talking. Some will assert the "Turks" destroyed everything when they ruled over these territories in the 14-19th centuries. Others will, more level-headedly, point out that when the Ottomans were in control the Bulgarians lands were no longer a border zone and consequently forts and fortresses were no longer needed for defence purposes.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

FORTRESS ON THE EDGE

Bulgaria's Route 86, that leads from Plovdiv to Smolyan in the heart of the Rhodope mountains, is a slow and winding drive through a maze of rising tops, dense forests, crumbling villages and depopulated towns. It is a route you take to escape from the urban noise into one of the quietest corners of Bulgaria.

It wasn't always so.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

MONASTERIES OF VELIKO TARNOVO

It was also the seat of the patriarch, the head of the Bulgarian Church. Surrounded by his staff and underlings, he presided over a vast network of churches, monasteries and scriptoria.

There, icons were painted, books were written and the latest ideas in medieval philosophy were discussed.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment

BULGARIA'S FIRST CAPITALS

If power and economy were gravity, the gravitational centre of modern Bulgaria would be Sofia, where the population and the important agencies of the state, the economy and the culture are concentrated. If we go back to the Middle Ages, when Bulgaria was still young, the country's centre of gravity would be elsewhere – in the northeast, close to the city of Shumen. There, the remains of Bulgaria's first capitals, Pliska and Preslav, still survive – next to an astonishing piece of mediaeval art, the Madara Horseman.

Comments: 0

Read more Add new comment